Artistic Expression

BANDING TOGETHER Big Ideas Shape Thriving Arts Environments

Different art forms are often placed in a position to compete with one another. While everyone has passion for the art they create, or support, or understand, we’re often placed in a position in schools and communities to take a competitive stance because of limited funding or economic issues. Beyond the need for funding is the powerful role competition plays in our society. Competition is fun, and it can be even more fun when you win. Although competitiveness can be a useful way to achieve a short-term goal in the arts, it can also be a zero-sum game for the arts to truly thrive long-term.

shutterstock_250494814How can we develop an environment in which artists and specialized educational arts disciplines or organizations work together toward common goals, free from the fear of losing their individual identity and support? I believe there’s a need for behavioral changes that can help the arts flourish long-term.

The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.
~ Bertrand Russell

I’d like to suggest three of the ways we can expand our own understanding and at the same time add breadth and depth to the learning experiences we design in the arts. I’m using the term artists here to mean all people who engage in creating a widely inclusive range of fine and performing art. If we’re willing to be flexible in the design of the courses and programs we create, we have the potential to ultimately further the long-term success of arts environments in communities around the world.


Few would deny the value of exploring the artistic process through collaborative experiences across and within arts disciplines. This is sometimes accomplished with a project that involves the joint effort between genres or by joining together two or more art forms. But it’s also helpful for this kind of experience to be more than a simple collaboration where each person or group uses their skills as part of a project. It’s beneficial for those involved to explore the process of the other. Where do knowledge and skills intersect and where do they differ? And how does it impact the creative result? It’s important now, more than ever, that we look deeper and find the real value common to the artistic process of expression in all its forms.

When we’re open to growing, learning, and discovering in another art form, it deepens our understanding of shared experience and, at the same time, expands our awareness and appreciation for the kind of expression that feels most natural. It also opens us to a sense of feeling together through a conscious perspective beyond our own minds and hearts. This openness to broader understanding is also valuable in everyday life experiences. It doesn’t eliminate our own individual thinking, but it expands our ability to imagine what others see beneath the surface of thought. It’s a kind of learning, sensitivity, and mutuality that’s needed to create more rewarding experiences in today’s world.

It’s true that people sometimes have a difficult time seeing or hearing in unfamiliar ways. But without losing artistic identity or the love of a certain method of expression, we can all benefit from exploring and learning, looking deeply to find the real value common to artistic expression in all its forms.

Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.
~ Leonardo da Vinci


It’s been proven time and again that artists have structurally different brains compared with non-artists. While studies show how various aspects of an artist’s brain function in different arts experiences depending on the skills involved, the exact definition of those functions is not the purpose of this article. Rather, I’m suggesting there are real benefits of grouping arts students from various disciplines together in non-arts classes. When they’re given the opportunity to explore “neutral” subjects like literature, history, or philosophy, or study scientific inquiry and mathematical reasoning together through participatory teaching methods, the experience not only broadens their personal understanding but deepens the work they accomplish in their own art form.

The participatory methodology in this kind of setting provides students an opportunity to express themselves through the lens of their expression as an artist. For instance, through their art form and personal artistic voice, students can learn to:

  • Express the emotional as well as the historical meaning of events.
  • Engage with the human condition and create meaning in the face of fact.
  • Explore and express their own values.
  • Explore empathy by expressing the thoughts of others.
  • Express powerful images that capture the compelling detail of a large idea.

Similar minds with similar experiences often see things the same way. It’s an incredible gift we can give one another when we have an opportunity to share and see into another’s understanding. Some the most groundbreaking artistic works have resulted when artists with knowledge and experience from distant genres and unrelated forms come together and create new ideas. The translation of ideas and knowledge into dance, or music, or visual art, or theatrical display, etc. speaks to us in ways language cannot, and they often present multiple levels of meaning we wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Various artistic processes exist because we’re individuals and we all express ourselves differently. That’s life. It’s complicated. But it’s the complexity that makes what artists do so meaningful.

All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.
~ Maya Angelou


I believe we can be more determined about looking deeply into the process of creating art. Our minds tend to expand by seeing in one thing something else that’s even more meaningful. We’re facing an increasingly challenging world that changes every day. It’s a world that’s asking us to think in new ways. And if we desire an impassioned, innovative, and thriving arts community, it’s important that we prepare ourselves to take advantage of all the knowledge we can learn from arts experiences.

Whether you’re a student, a parent, a businessperson, a manager, a leader, an artist or an educator, you can benefit from viewing the arts from a more expansive viewpoint. Delving deeply into the artistic process, you will discover a wealth of knowledge that can assist you with every aspect of your personal and professional life. For instance, you can become more aware of how to:

  • Use the patterns that come from your unique array of internal and external experiences to build and sustain momentum in your life and work.
  • Manage the challenge or expressivity of each moment and achieve greater success by maintaining a balanced perspective in relation to the bigger picture.
  • Unlock the power of pull by getting inside whatever it is you do with openness and curiosity.
  • Manage tension points and releases and move more easily beyond difficult circumstances while fully enjoying the easier moments.
  • Produce meaningful results and achievements through the stark beauty and freedom of structure.
  • Take the risk of a first step to reveal new possibilities, new adventures, and new connections that are always within your reach.

Open from the inside out and allow imaginative ideas to come forward with a constant process of learning and letting go to make way for new understanding and beliefs.

Every block of a stone has the statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.
~ Michelangelo

I believe there is a deep body of knowledge in arts learning that we haven’t even begun to tap, and it’s time we do something about it. The arts can shape our thinking, and feeling, and knowing in ways that can transform our world. My contention is that we need to broaden and deepen our curriculum in arts classes and experiences, because, if we don’t, we’re disregarding the potential of the arts to provide students with comprehensive and relevant 21st century skill sets. And, if we don’t, we’re denying that depth of awareness in our own hearts and souls.

Today’s societal challenges call for arts disciplines and organizations to band together to ease the weight of the problems we face every day. While the arts benefit the individual, there is perhaps even greater value in community— forming relationships, organizing, and claiming collective responsibility for a given issue or situation. In some cases, to build new relationships, it might even be necessary to fundamentally change relationships that are already in place. Collaborative effort can be shaped in ways that also strengthen individual discipline and organizational identity and support. The sooner we can begin to expand our mindsets about how the arts are understood and taught, the sooner we can shape more vibrant environments for the arts to flourish, serving communities in ways never before imagined.

Learning never exhausts the mind.
~ Leonardo da Vinci